The longer you're in this business, the more you understand the factors outside of just coaching impact winning. Administration, boosters, financial components, facilities, campus, prestige, location, recruiting backyard, television exposure, conference... all these matter in real ways and create tiers within power conferences.
As such, there area couple schools (and coaches) who are slightly underachieving. These are schools that aren't quite blue bloods but have the power at their disposal to put themselves in the tournament every year. Blue bloods are really the list that follows: UCLA, Kentucky, Kansas, Duke, North Carolina.
So, which schools need to be mentioned in a tier just below those schools that don't quite have the history of basketball success?
1. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
This is one I've never really understood. Indiana is a basketball state. Sure, in-state recruiting is tense with Indiana and Purdue nearby. The Irish might lose out to those schools since they're the farthest from Indianapolis, the state's talent-heavy area, and play in the ACC instead of the Big Ten, creating more difficult travel for families and less local TV coverage.
Still, Notre Dame is a national brand. That should carry a little more weight in-state than it does. The Irish always have great reach to the Northeast and within the boarding school world, as the Notre Dame fandom has deep roots in the greater Boston area.
While those two have been the major hotbeds for their recruiting efforts, ND should be reaching higher and farther. The fact they're a red herring in the ACC and travel farthest of all those schools shouldn't be as large of an obstacle for them. They can pull from the Northeast and Midwest a tad higher than they do. This will be their fourth year in a row without an NCAA Tournament bid.
I'm not doubting Mike Brey as a coach. He's a great dude, has a good staff and coaches offense really well. But they're all out of state, rarely get top-50 recruits direct from high school and should be able to carry a lot of weight as a household name to swing both.
#2. USC Trojans
That's the record for success in Southern California history. No team has won 27 games. They've made the Sweet Sixteen twice since 1961.
It's a perennial underachievement job for one of the nation's most well-known institutions. A talent-rich home base, a great campus in one of America's most desirable cities, and a conference that isn't brimming with elite competitors are all reasons for excuses to be thrown out.
3. Maryland Terrapins
Think of all the advantages the Terps have.
-Under Armour home base and unreal amount of swagger that goes with it
-Perhaps the nation's best hoops hotbed with the DMV right in their backyard, and relatively little major conference competition in Baltimore or DC.
-Great environment in the Comcast Center
-Strong academic prestige for a public institution
Perhaps this is another case of the conference doing the school a disservice, but the Terps really shouldn't have down years. They haven't made four-straight NCAA Tournaments since 2004. While Turgeon doesn't really have losing seasons there, it seems like there's always room for a little more out of them.
They should have two or three kids every year from Gonzaga or DeMatha. There's enough talent to win that way. But Turgeon continues to lose out on premier in-state talent to out-of-region foes. Last year, Earl Timberlake and Hunter Dickinson went to Miami and Michigan, respectively. Even Luka Garza was a DC kid for high school. If the Terps defended their backyard a little more successfully, they'd likely take a giant step or two in the national rankings.
4. Georgetown Hoyas
Speaking of the DMV... imagine being an elite institution with name recognition nationally and a history of prestige, whose backyard is the most talent-rich in the country.
Now imagine being that same school and going to one NCAA tournament since 2013.
Georgetown really isn't a difficult place to win. The Big East has Villanova as the only perennial power and a ton of schools jockeying for position in the middle of the pack. But they haven't won 20 games since 2014-15, which was the last time they were ranked. There will be a change sooner than later, with Ewing leaving town once this experiment with the great alum ends. They need to be incredibly smart about who they hire. Like Notre Dame, Georgetown should be crushing the elite prep scene, dominating their backyard and never in the bottom-half of their conference.
5. Miami (FL) Hurricanes
I like Jim Larranaga. He's in his tenth year in Miami now, which is somewhat hard to believe. In the nine prior years, his Hurricanes have missed the tournament more than they've made it. Prior to him coming to Coral Gables, Frank Haith led the U to only one NCAA Tournament appearance in seven seasons. Perry Clark in one of four. Before Leonard Hamilton's streak of three straight from 1998-2000, they had made one appearance in program history.
In some ways, Larranaga is the most successful coach in program history. But the bar is pretty low. Maybe I'm a child of the late-90s when The U was the coolest place to be for college football, but it's never really caught on for hoops.
The ACC shouldn't really be that difficult. Duke and North Carolina are blue bloods. Louisville and Virginia have it rolling year-in and year-out. Beyond that, there isn't much consistency. Notre Dame and Miami should both be able to vault into the next tier with the Cards and Cavs... especially if Syracuse is a program on the decline.
Miami has the advantage of tremendous climate; they can and should draw one-and-dones more often. They get a great deal of national exposure with their league, and it's not like Florida State and Florida are such large juggernauts they can't be overcome for local battles.
I'm not sure how much longer Larranaga, 71, has left on the sidelines. The NYC native has won over 660 career games, a Hall of Fame-worthy resume in many respects. But a youthful, energetic voice in town could make "The U" cool again and really get this scene blossoming.
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Assistant Men's Basketball Coach, Dickinson College.